One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received was from a mentor I had named Lew. Lew was an old school sales guy, trained by the legendary Don Valentine at Fairchild Semiconductor back in the day.
After working at Fairchild, Lew ran several large sales organizations. Then he ended up in private equity, doing mergers and acquisitions.
I had tremendous respect for Lew because it was clear he knew what he was doing.
One day, Lew and I were talking about closing big deals, and he said to me, “You need to be a polite pest.”
I nodded my head. Lew looked like he had more to say, so I let him continue talking. “You can’t just wait for a deal to close, you have to actively help it close.
“You’re (the salesperson) the one with the sense of urgency. That’s why you have to be a polite pest to get the deal closed.”
You don’t have to be a jerk to be a pest.
“Okay, that’s twice you’ve said be a polite pest. What exactly do you mean?” I asked.
“You can still be nice and polite, but you have to make the phone calls. And, most importantly, you have to ask for the order.
“That’s what being a polite pest is all about.”
I am not a natural salesperson. I’m an engineer by training. However, I took Lew’s advice to heart, and, when I started my company, as uncomfortable as I might have been, I asked for the order. And then I kept asking for the order until I got it.
Learn to ask, who will do what, by when.
Sometimes, I’d get the order immediately. However, the larger percentage of the time, I wouldn’t.
Then, I’d ask some variation of, “Who, will do what, by when?” In other words, I’d work with the customer to understand what needed to happen to get to when they’d be ready to make a decision.
To understand this properly you need to understand:
A. Who will make the decision?
Identifying the decision maker in the sales process is critical. I learned the hard way that you can be talking to someone on the customer side, and they have no decision making power.
They may be a gatekeeper, or they may be an interface, but you need to understand who will ultimately make the buying decision.
B. Will do what?
What needs to be done on the customer side to get to a decision? For example, maybe they need to complete the evaluation of your product in their system.
Whatever it is, you want to understand it. Then you can ask if there’s anything you can do to help them complete their process.
C. By when?
Sales isn’t a magical, random event. The best sales people are scary-methodical.
It’s almost like project management, and there’s a reason for this. Sales is project management, except you’re managing a sales process that involves your customer.
Like all project management, it’s critical that you get completion dates for each part of the process. Here’s a pro tip. A date isn’t the week of May 1. A date is a specific date on the calendar.
Knowing the exact day that a customer completes a certain part of their buying process may seem like a small detail, but it’s not. The more detailed understanding you have of what your customer is doing, the better your chances are of winning the deal.
You have to ask a lot of questions, politely to get the information you need to truly understand your customers needs. That’s why Lew was right. You need to be a polite pest to be successful in sales.